Summer Reading: A Family Affair

Summer is a time for play for sure. Children should take the seemingly unlimited hours of daylight and play from dawn to dusk if they can. And adult family members are encouraged to join in the fun when the opportunity presents itself. There are additional things to take advantage of over the summer break as well, such as: traveling, picnics, water play, beach fun, community fairs and the like. But what about academics? Should we encourage our kids to completely disengage  in academic activities over summer break? After all summer is often considered a BREAK from the rigors of academics. Right? Well maybe so, but lets consider the “academic task” of reading.

For the highly engaged, independent reader, reading is likely considered a leisure activity- perfect for warm summer afternoons under a shady tree. However, dependent readers are most likely to consider reading to be an academic activity that is associated with rigorous academic studies motivated by school life- not summer vacation. Regardless of your child’s perspective on reading there is evidence grounded in research that shows that students who read over the summer vacation are less likely to have learning loss. Additionally, the more books they read positively impacts their achievement in the fall.

For example, in her landmark study of public library summer reading programs, Barbara Heyns found that children who read at least six books during the summer maintained or improved their reading skills, while children who didn’t read any books saw their reading skills decline by as much as one grade level (Barbara Heyns, Summer Learning and the Effects of Schooling, New York, NY: Academic Press, 1978).

So how do we encourage our kids to read over summer break? And more importantly, how to we get them to enjoy it? The article The Self-Confident Child: How Can I get My Child to Enjoy Summer Reading outlines the following three simple tips for encouraging reading in children:

1. Children are motivated to read by seeing their parents read.

2. Children are motivated to read when they are read to as young children (older children enjoy being read to as well).

3. Children are motivated to read when they engage in partner reading with a parent or caregiver. That is, the adult and child take turns reading.

Most classrooms have established daily reading times when the entire class (including the teacher) is engaged in leisure reading. There are a variety of  labels for this in-class reading activity such as SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) and DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). This activity has been utilized effectively by schools for years to model reading and motivate a community or readers. So why not try out this concept at home? One way to integrate reading into your family life is to establish a routine that involves reading. Just like we have been told to have routines for personal hygiene such as brushing our teeth or bathing, we can create the same expectations for reading as a family. It can happen regularly every day in the context of our schedule, such as reading before bedtime. Younger children can be read to or engage in partner reading with a parent or older sibling. As children mature they can spend a few minutes before bed snuggling with mom and/or dad as you each read a book, or partner read a book together. Be creative, set goals, make it fun, and most importantly, enjoy the time with your child knowing that you are modeling an important life skill while enhancing their academics.